Equally revered by greedy bastards, Canadian prog-rock musicians, and misguided philosophy majors, Ayn Rand was a distinctly American phenomenon: an atheistic philosopher of self-interest as an ultimate good. And, as the Showtime original movie The Passion Of Ayn Rand shows, she was a lusty and passionate one, as well. As embodied by the perpetually terrific Helen Mirren, Rand is a fascinating, driven demon of a woman, a cruel, egotistical dynamo willing to destroy all those around her. Based on a book by Barbara Branden, the ex-wife of Rand's onetime lover and intellectual heir Nathaniel Branden, The Passion Of Ayn Rand tells the story of the epic, doomed romance between Nathaniel (Eric Stoltz) and Rand, a romance understandably frowned upon by Barbara (Julie Delpy) and wearily tolerated by Rand's long-suffering husband (a very good Peter Fonda). Though it begins on such a purple note that it initially seems less like a portrait of great thinkers than an especially pretentious episode of Red Shoe Diaries, Passion takes a sober turn halfway through, evolving into an interesting, if uneven, portrait of people imprisoned by ideology. Like all great thinkers and/or ambitious college students, Rand and Nathaniel eventually discover that no matter how rational an ideology may be, people are ruled by irrational emotions. What makes The Passion Of Ayn Rand so simultaneously frustrating and interesting is the way it glamorizes Rand's philosophy while at the same time showing it to be impractical and wrongheaded in practice. Functioning as a sort of historical Your Friends And Neighbors minus the dark humor, watching The Passion Of Ayn Rand is like spending two hours with two articulate, loathsome people—which, depending on your perspective, is either a very good or very bad thing.

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